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3 min read

Background Check Myths: 9 Common Misunderstandings and the Truth Behind Them

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There’s a lot of fluctuating information out there about background checks. And it’s common for even the most experienced HR leader to be confused or misinformed about various aspects. Unfortunately, misunderstandings can lead to decision making that isn’t based on reliable data.

To combat misinformation, we compiled a list of nine myths we’ve often heard from HR professionals about background checks. Some of the truths won’t surprise you – but you may find that some widely held beliefs aren’t entirely accurate.

Myth #1 – Using only “instant” database background checks is reliable.

The truth is, most screening companies claiming to be a one-stop solution for “instant” background check results exclusively bank on database information. The problem? Employers that rely only on a database miss out on loads of other sources that a comprehensive background check could include (think county criminal records, work history, etc.). So, if you are using one of these “instant” sources for your background screening, it’s likely you could be missing more comprehensive and reliable sources.

Myth #2 – Basing a background check on the candidate’s current residence is enough.

Candidates could have a record anywhere – from the city of their university to the county of their job three years ago. Anywhere they have lived, worked, or traveled to is a potential location where a record may exist. But how do you find potential locations to search? Options like an ID Trace could point to additional locations to search, and a search of a National Criminal Database could locate potential records from across the country.

Want to see how many addresses the average candidate has? Contact us for the full details ››

Myth #3 – There’s a central database with all criminal records in the U.S.

Wouldn’t that be nice? Unfortunately, no such source exists. Instead, a layered approach of multiple criminal record sources helps create a coast-to-coast criminal history. A National Criminal Database search also helps locate potential records from a wide range of sources across the country. As a supplemental tool, it can be very useful in identifying tips and leads to help find potential records across widespread locations and sources.

Myth #4 – When it comes to background screening, “Federal” and “National” mean the same thing.

While it seems like these two words might be interchangeable, they are widely different. “Federal” searches look at Federal Courthouse records and can include serious crimes such as hacking and cybercrimes, fraud, terrorism, robbery, crimes that cross state lines, and many more. “National” oftentimes refers to a National Criminal Database search, which combs a large number of records from various sources from across the country.

Myth #5 – All records are stored and found using a Social Security number.

A candidate’s Social Security number is an important identifier since it’s unique to the individual. However, not all background information can be found using that sole calling card. Additional identifying information may be necessary to improve processing workflow and speeds for some searches, including complete name (including middle), full birth date, and more.

Myth #6 – No one does background checks beyond pre-hire.

In the last 5 years, there’s been a huge rise in organizations that are rescreening employees. In fact, we’ve seen a 480% increase in that time. But why the trend? Well, it might be simply because employees can still obtain records after hire.

How often do rechecks result in new information being reported? Get in touch to learn about discrepancy or “hit” rates for current employees ››

Myth #7 – Background check products with the same name will deliver the same results.

An apples-to-apples comparison seems simple if two background checks are called the same thing by different providers. Take a closer look, and the information sources may differ or one option many include all names and locations while the other is itemized or unclear. You may need to look deeply into those difficult-to-pinpoint details to clearly see if the services are equal.

Myth #8 – Most background checks only look for criminal history.

It’s absolutely true that criminal history checks are the most popular types of background checks performed, but those only provide insight into one piece of a candidate’s background. Think about what insights you might gain from other credentials, like employment and academic history verifications, drug tests, driving record searches, and more.

Myth #9 – Hybrid screening solutions are more efficient.

Across the industry we see screening companies that market combination searches. Take for example a National Sex Offender Registry as part of a National Criminal Database search (take a look at this comparison chart), promising to deliver complete results from both sources. While this is enticing for an organization looking to save resources, these hybrid options may ultimately only deliver results from one source or the other, leaving the promise of a two-for-one offer unfulfilled.

Your role as an HR leader is complex. While there’s no way to be an expert in every area – including background checks – there are ways to fact-check big decisions about the information you trust and the candidates you hire. Take a look at your current program and ask if any of these myths have contributed to information gaps or misunderstandings. You might just find new truths that set you on a path to more fact-based decision making.

Have you made decisions about your screening program based on any of these myths? Schedule a consultation to learn how a change to your program might close gaps in your background checks.

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